The American people are fundamentally risk takers.
I say this as a spineless wimp myself. It’s all right, it’s true. I can’t imagine jumping from a plane or going in big on a horse race. Or even getting too physical in a sport.
I’ll spare you the cheese of recounting the many moments in American history that involved a successful gamble, political or otherwise, but we’ve been laying all the cards on the table since the birth of the nation. While capitalism thrives on risk, there was a lot more at stake than money when Americans declared independence, pushed west or explored interstellar space.
Perhaps the most remarkable risk of all is the extraordinary amount of freedom granted to each citizen. Just about all of these freedoms can lead to less than ideal results. Liberty does not necessarily lead to safety, prosperity or goodwill, but we made the bet on liberty. That was a pretty dangerous thing to do.
Our risky nature may be subconscious; it may be that we don’t fully understand the deep sea of potential consequences that lurk beneath the freedoms we’ve bestowed on ourselves. Then again, history has shown us just about every possible negative outcome of our lifestyle. Our rights have been abused countless times, some abuses obviously more horrific than others. Our political and economic systems have failed us throughout our history.
Maybe we do want the risks themselves—maybe we just can’t imagine life without them, maybe we would somehow feel less free if they were eliminated. Or maybe we are just willing to make the trade-off. After all, we’ve been taught that through risks are rewards. It may not be the best way, but it’s part of the American way, whether we consciously realize it or not.
We surrendered to the idea of playing an all-or-nothing game when we could just modify a few rules. Nations all over the world have found and are continuing to find a balance between safety, risk and freedom. Surely America could do the same. The question is, would we want to? Would altering America’s inherent risk shred part of its identity?
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